Confessional Address

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:29
Date: Maundy Thursday + 4/1/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

Dear Christian Friends,

We begin these three holy days, the sacred Triduum, in an unusual way, beginning with a “Confessional Address.” It is to remember that we began the holy season of Lent forty days ago with an extended confession of sins, committing ourselves to the Lenten discipline of fasting, prayer and alms-giving. Therefore this night, as the forty Lenten days of preparation come to an end, it is good, right and salutary that we should hear an extended absolution, the forgiveness of our sins that we may enter the celebration of the Lord’s Passover in sincerity and truth.

Maundy Thursday, as it is named after the anglicized Latin word “mandatum,” is thought of by most of our folks as the night in which our Lord instituted the sacrament of His holy supper. And it is. The Psalm for the day has us say, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:14). The Epistle is from that section of First Corinthians where St. Paul tells of the institution of the sacrament. But the word “Maundy” comes from the Latin “mandatum” which means “commandment,” and is taken from the Gospel appointed for this day; not a description of the institution of the sacrament by Matthew, Mark, Luke or Paul, but a description of the washing of the disciples’ feet from St. John’s account. And, indeed, St. Paul’s talk about the sacrament in First Corinthians is in the context of a criticism concerning the lovelessness in the fellowship of the believers, that is, how there were unchristian divisions, separations, shall we call them segregations among the church members. On the night in which He was betrayed, when our Lord washed His disciples’ feet, He said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet…. A mandatum novum, a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn. 13:13-14, 34).

To be commanded to love one another is to acknowledge our sinful preference not to love one another. This is the hardest part of learning to live in the forgiveness of our sins. It is not as hard for us to believe that the Lord has forgiven us our sins, as it is to believe that He has also forgiven our neighbor. You know…even “that” dirty fellow who has given us so much grief. To forgive and love one another is so important that our Lord Himself, after giving us the Our Father prayer, said, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:14-15). In other words, if there is any refusal to forgive others in your heart, you ought to examine yourself to see if you really believe the Lord’s word of forgiveness for you.

St. Paul brings together the doctrine of the real presence of our Lord’s true body and blood in the sacrament with the doctrine of the fellowship of the Church in one, clear statement when he writes, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:29). The question is, what is this “body” Paul says we are to “discern”? It is to believe fully and completely that here in the sacrament I am not only receiving bread and wine but also the Lord’s true body and blood sacramentally with my mouth. Yes, such faith is required for the beneficial reception of the sacrament. It is not a “spiritual” belief or reception, meaning only symbolic or otherwise not really real, but a “sacramental” belief and reception that, even though we do not understand how the bread and wine are the Lord’s body and blood, nevertheless as the Word of God declares it, so we believe it. Yes, discerning the body of Christ has to do with believing and confessing the real presence of our Lord’s true body and blood in the sacrament, the same body and blood that once hung on the cross, that was buried, that rose again and ascended into heaven and now fills all things.

Or, as Paul has been talking about the sinful divisions among the Church members in Corinth, is he talking about discerning the body meaning the fellowship of the Church, the body of Christ? Once again the answer is yes! This means that if I do not repent and heartily forgive and love my neighbor who, in the church, has received the same body and blood and forgiveness of Christ as I have received, I am receiving the Lord’s body and blood not as the medicine of life but as the testimony of the price of my sin. It is, as it says in Hebrews 6, to crucify “once again the Son of God to your own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:5-6). So “discerning the body” means both the real presence of the Lord’s human body and blood and the Lord’s body, the Church, the fellowship of believers whose fellowship is in their agreement in the doctrine or teaching of the Bible.

To you here tonight is given this Word and, with the Word, the faith to understand and believe this Word; to truly repent of your sin, especially your doubt concerning the Lord’s gracious presence for you in the sacrament and the sin of refusal to forgive your neighbor. Then, having repented of your sin you are given the faith also to believe and receive the full and free forgiveness of all your sin by holy absolution, and to seal that forgiveness in the reception of the Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament He Himself instituted on this night in which He was betrayed. And isn’t that how we call it and note that it is in the very night in which our Lord was betrayed by His own disciples that He instituted this sacrament of forgiveness and love—meaning that there is no sin that is beyond our Lord’s power to forgive, to send away, and to replace with the healing balm of His own love.

God grant you this faith and power, the forgiveness of your sins and the power to love one another.